Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

These are the same verses from yesterday, but I’ve added in the last sentence in verse 2.   It’s one of the most famous, most quoted verses in the entire Bible.  To get the full effect, you really need the previous words.  “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Read that to yourself over and over a few times, and try to let it sink in.

Yesterday we talked about Franklin Graham and his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse.   Neither Franklin Graham nor anyone in Samaritan’s Purse set aside pure joy to endure pure torture for you or anyone else.   We talked about volunteers and first responders fighting fires and rebuilding after hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes.   None of them ever set aside joy, endured the cross, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father.  Your neighbors haven’t done this.  Barack Obama never did this and can’t; ditto Donald Trump.   Neither can Brad Pitt, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Benny Hinn, Miss America 2017, nor your saintly little old lady grandma.

Jesus did.   He didn’t just do it willingly:   He did it lovingly, fully, without hesitation.   It’s the theme of the entire Bible and the central event in all of human history.   Everything that every is or was or will be hinges on Jesus dying on the cross, then rising to live forever.

The creator of all things, the most powerful being imaginable, who created everything simply by speaking; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (as both Isaiah and Handel called Him):   He, the omnipotent and omniscient God willingly, enthusiastically let sinners He created nail Him to the most humiliating device of torture ever devised in hell.   He did it with gusto.   Jesus not only took the worst mankind could throw at Him:   He ASKED for it.  He ran the race of life fully, to its end, to show us where we were going.

He did so because Barack, Donald, Brad, Francis and the rest of us can’t.   We simply can’t.   We aren’t Him; we aren’t God.  He is.   We desperately needed Him to do it, too.  All too often, we don’t throw off those entangling sins.   Too often, the race seems like too much for us.

Yet there He is in the race, running ahead of us, drawing our gaze, our focus.  He’s in there to pace us, to give us someone to run toward.  He beckons us to persevere, to endure because He endured much tougher things than our day to day lives.   Notice that Jesus doesn’t take us out of the race.   He doesn’t pluck us from the middle of the world, removing us from our sins.  No, Jesus stays with us to give us a reason to push forward.   The reason is Him, sitting as equal with His Father in heaven, beckoning us to persevere, to run the race day by day.  With Him there is peace now and a meaningful forever.  In Him is the victory; in Him is the goal of running the race.   All of human history prepared for His coming, and when He came, all of history after Him was set on a different path.  No empire could prevent His resurrection; no ideology can refute it, deny it, or withstand it.  Every Christmas, memes and cards say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   That’s true, but don’t bottle that up until the Holidays.   Jesus is the reason you run your race today.   He’s there in every step, not just every December.

Get up and get back in your race.   Your goal is dead ahead.   For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   He did it so you could run your race.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I lift up Your Name to praise You for running my race with me.   Abide with me, push me forward, and help me to finish in Your strength.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 6 April 2017

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Hebrews 9, verse 24.

There is a line from “The Shack” that I continue to ponder.   When Mack (the protagonist) is talking with “Papa” (the Father character), they talk about Jesus and how He died on the cross.   Mack says he doesn’t understand how the Father could abandon the Son.  Papa reveals to Mack that he (Mack) truly doesn’t understand, but not how he thinks.   “I was with him there all along,” says Papa.   On its face, that statement seems to be contrary to much Christian doctrine which states that Jesus died a full and human death and that God the Father turned His holy face from His Son.   Who knows if the statement is true, either that the Father abandoned the Son, or that the Father was with the Son even through death.   Only they know, and we are only left to believe.

But think about that for a second, then consider verse 24.   When Jesus died, He did something that nobody else could do; this you know.  Jesus, being fully God and holy and having lived a life without sin, took ALL sin on Himself and wiped it out.   He erased the consequences of it from ever touching sinners who believe in Him.   When He did that, He took on that sin yet remained holy and perfect.   It’s a mystery, perhaps the greatest mystery of all time.  How could God actually do this?   When you figure that out, call me.   Better yet, call me, Franklin Graham, the Pope, and the Dalai Lama.   Come to Paris and I’ll buy you all dinner.  Invite Bill Young, the author of “The Shack,” too.

Yet there’s something undeniable about it all.   Jesus died the death we deserve and then entered God’s holy presence again.   He who had given up being in His Father’s presence for a time re-entered it fully, righteously, and having made all things new again.  He didn’t need to go to the Temple and offer a sacrifice for sins:   He had been the sacrifice.   That Temple, and before it the desert tabernacle, had been made to represent the Holy Temple in heaven where God resides in person.  Now came back Jesus to the original Temple – the presence of God – and He had been made all sin yet made all pure on our behalf to stand in His Father’s presence again and proclaim “Abba, we did it!”

I don’t know if the Father abandoned the Son during the time He forsook Him.   I don’t know (and neither does your pastor) whether or not the Father was there in Spirit or in person, and I don’t know exactly how the miracle was fully completed.  Like the transaction of actually requiring blood, I don’t fully understand the mystery.  In the end, I also don’t know if that really even matters.   To me, it seems like a fine point of theology ripe for navel gazing.

Bill Young is on to something, namely that it doesn’t matter how God accomplished our redemption.   Yes, I said that.   It doesn’t matter how God did it, but it does matter THAT He did it.  It isn’t for us to fully understand the mechanism through which God made right what we could not.  It doesn’t matter whether the Father was present throughout the Son’s passion or whether He turned His holy face away.  What matters is that, however it happened, God accomplished our salvation.   We know it required blood – meaning it required submitting life to God – and we know that it required the full submission of a sacrifice.   And we know that Jesus gave both of those, taking all our filth onto His pristine Spirit to make us righteous again.   He did this for our benefit, and He then ascended back into heaven to regain His place at the Father’s side.

When He did that, Jesus re-entered the heaven to which we aspire.   It was the same place He had left years before when He became incarnate here on the Third Rock…and yet it wasn’t.   Something had changed.   It wasn’t less perfect; it wasn’t even more perfect, as if that were possible.   Instead, the fact of man’s condition had changed because of what He Himself had done.   When that happened, the representation of heaven was no longer needed because He who would live through each of us could fully reside once again in the true heaven where perfection remained perfect.    And He did it for us, to intercede for us when we couldn’t.

For further reading:  Hebrews 8:2, Hebrews 4:14, Romans 8:34.

Lord, You are magnificent, worthy of all praise, and fully perfect in every way.   Thank You for all You have done!

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 30 November 2016

 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  Hebrews 4, verse 16.

Let’s talk about Fidel Castro.  We’ll even cut to the chase about the conversation:   Jesus died to save Fidel Castro.

Since Fidel assumed room temperature last week, I’ve been posting online about what a monster he was.   Fidel was a cold blooded murderer.   I know people in Miami whose family was destroyed because of Castro’s rampage in 1950s and 60s Cuba.   He murdered thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of the countrymen he led because he considered them a threat to his grip on power.   He exported his communist cult of death all over the planet and, at least once, nearly caused a nuclear war.  Fidel lived to prove he hated God.  Fidel Castro was a hate-filled relic of the past and a timely reminder of Satan’s hold on so much of our fellow brothers and sisters.  He’s in the same league as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Charles Taylor, Mao Tse-tung and every other tyrant who willfully, gleefully murdered to gain temporal power.

And Jesus died to save him.   As much as I despise what Fidel did in this life and as unforgiveable as his sins may seem to humanity, it is my sincere prayer that, at some time in these last few years, Fidel repented and accepted Jesus.  It is my sincere desire to see him in heaven one day.   Let’s keep it real:   it’s unlikely that Fidel did that.   It’s unlikely that he bent his dictator knee and confessed that he needed Jesus, that Jesus was more than he was.   It’s unlikely…but I hope it happened.   I truly do.   If he didn’t, then the moment Fidel died, a moment of sadness crossed the face of Jesus because one of His beloved people finally refused His greatest gift.  Jesus died for Fidel…just like He did for Billy Graham and Pope Francis…just like he did for Hitler, Mao and the rest…just like He did for you and me.

If we, as followers of Jesus, can’t bring ourselves to say that then we, as followers of Jesus, are hypocrites.   If we can’t say that, then we don’t have the confidence to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.   For people like Fidel, me, and you, our time of need is every minute of every day.   You and I can’t deny that Fidel’s sins were bigger and much more public than our own, but in God’s eyes, ours are just as big, bad, and bold.  A sin is a sin is a sin, even as some have bigger human consequences than others.  All of them are unholy rebellion against Jesus’ holy love.

Jesus lived and died so that we, as sinners just like Fidel, could approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.   So that we could lay aside the spiritual death of our sins and embrace the free gift of life that is confessing how we believe in hope that Jesus died for us.   Our Savior, who became one of us and is fully man like us, lived, died, and lives again to prove that He overcame the penalty of our sins:   the natural consequence of death.  Our Savior and great High Priest enters His Holy of Holies because He atoned with His blood for my sins and Fidel’s.   He sat down at the right hand of the Father to intercede now for us in our moments of need.   As we’ve seen, every moment is one in need.

Castro was a brutal monster.   More people on this planet suffered because of his life than benefited from it.  The things he did were crimes against liberty and crimes against God’s justice.  I wish that, during his life, Fidel had been subject to human justice for the terrors he brought on others.   Part of me wishes he could have tasted the pain and anguish he caused in others.   That never happened and still the communist dictator died the same lonely death as a pope in Rome.   Yet even communist pagan Fidel Castro was the object of God’s mercy.   Jesus loved Fidel and Jesus died for Fidel the same way He did for Dave Terry and you, friend reader.   It’s my sincere prayer that Fidel received that mercy.

For more reading:   Hebrews 7:19, Ephesians 3:12.

Lord, I pray, have mercy on us sinners.   Forgive us the terrible things we do and grant us Your mercy and peace.